Down-to-earth, or downright `insane'? Time vindicated the simple paintings of Doris Lee

It's difficult to believe now, but Doris Lee upset quite a few people in the 1930s with her simple, down-to-earth approach to painting. The controversy began in 1935 after she was given the prestigious Logan Award by the Art Institute of Chicago. Mrs. Logan, the award's benefactor, was so offended by Miss Lee's picture, ``Thanksgiving,'' that she immediately founded the ``Sanity in Art'' movement to prevent similar ``insanities'' from being honored in the future.

The movement never amounted to much, but Doris Lee did. Anyone familiar with the art of the 1930s and '40s will remember her brightly colored, somewhat primitive-looking canvases depicting everyday activities in rural, small-town, and big-city communities. And anyone who looked beyond the big names of the 1950s and '60s will recall her stylized and decoratively abstract pictures that may not have achieved quite the success her earlier works had, but that were deeply appreciated by many who preferr ed art to be gently lyrical and subtly humorous.

A number of her later paintings as well as one from the 1930s are currently on view at the Terry Dintenfass Gallery here. It's a warm, lovely exhibition that stresses the artist's interest in color, pattern, and design and that introduces the viewer to such subjects as a wonderfully detailed ``Hog Show,'' young women sewing or playing the harp, and a delightful assortment of cats, horses, birds, and butterflies.

At the Terry Dintenfass Gallery, 50 West Seventh Street, through Jan. 2.

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